Saturday, February 27, 2021

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lauren Krugel reports on a push by Alberta doctors to avoid the further lifting of public health restrictions which will increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Sarah Zhang notes that we're just now seeing a return to widespread recognition of the importance of ventilation in protecting against community spread - though of course more forward-thinking people have been pointing it out since last summer, particularly in trying to keep schools safe. And Jennifer Yang reports on research showing that vaccinations targeted by postal code as well as age can be far more effective in improving health outcomes.  But Robert Hiltz writes that conservatives have effectively given up on doing anything to stop the pandemic, choosing instead to focus on finger-pointing and false hopes that vaccines alone will restore us to normal.

- Robinson Meyer writes about the obvious planning failures which left Texas unprepared to cope with foreseeable changes in weather. And Molly McCracken responds to Brad Wall's attempt to push Manitoba toward the type of privatized and fragmented power system which led to that tragedy.

- Colin Gordon rightly questions the subsidies the U.S. hands out to agribusiness giants.

- Nicholas Kusnetz highlights how the UCP's anti-environmental inquiry mirrors the worst of the U.S.' climate denialists.

- Gary Mason writes that Alberta's claim to have some inherent fiscal advantage has been exposed as a lie. And Scott Schmidt points out that we shouldn't trust right-wing excuses to use deficits as a basis to slash needed services and supports.

- Finally, Amira Elbaghawy discusses how the reported data on hate crimes - worrisome as it is is - severely understates the real damage hate groups inflict on communities. And Osita Nwanevu warns that it's wrong to presume white supremacism and conspiracy theories are spreading only among lesser-educated populations.

Musical interlude

 Lord Huron - Not Dead Yet

Friday, February 26, 2021

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jason Hickel writes that on a global scale, poverty is the result of inequality and the misallocation of resources rather than underdevelopment. And Brittany Andrew-Amofah makes the case for a wealth tax to both reduce the existing concentration of wealth and power, and fund collective benefits, while the Canadian Press reports on the inequality exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as job losses accumulated solely on the low end of the income scale. 

- Meanwhile, Aidan Simardone discusses the limitations of trying to litigate for social justice through Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms which doesn't actually address positive rights necessary for survival, nor private intrusions on them.

- Brendan Haley points out how less-wealthy households have missed out on the gains from energy efficiency funding which requires recipients to pay for substantial renovations out of pocket. And Alex MacPherson reports on Saskatoon's steps to fill in the gap left by the Saskatchewan Party's elimination of any meaningful efficiency program at all.

- Mike Hager reports on the understandable concerns that a real estate developer's donations to a police charity will influence how downtown Vancouver will be policed.

- Danyaal Raza and Bob Bell write that the deliberate effect of Doug Ford's outsourcing of cataract surgery is to ensure the public pays more to private clinics. And David Climenhaga discusses the likelihood that the UCP's consolidation of dispatch operations (over the strong objections of the communities affected) is the first step toward mass privatization of ambulance services.

- Finally, Annie Burns-Pieper notes that it's impossible to fully appreciate the harm caused by the federal government's neglect of First Nations water systems due to a choice not to track water-related illnesses. And Zak Vescera reports that the Sask Party has followed the principle of not tracking what it doesn't want to know about in refusing to fund wastewater analysis which would give Saskatchewan more information about the spread of COVID.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Melissa Healy reports on yet another dangerous variant of COVID-19 which is spreading in California. Nicky Phillips writes about the likelihood that the coronavirus will become endemic even once full vaccinations have been carried out. Jessica Elgot, Noel Sample and Nicola Davis report on new modelling showing how relaxed rules in the UK could cause tens of thousands of deaths. And the Canadian Press reports on a new survey showing the popularity of public health measures in Quebec even as far too many provinces stall or even backslide in protecting against community transmission.

- Meanwhile, Heather Scoffield asks whether the federal government's COVID relief will address some of the inequality arising out of the pandemic - though she's too generous in presuming there had been progress made before coronavirus hit. 

- Madlen Davies, Ivan Ruiz, Jill Langois and Rosa Furneaux expose how Pfizer and other drug manufacturers have used COVID vaccines to hold Latin American countries for ransom.

- Andre Picard rightly wonders when we'll start acting to remediate the well-known problems with our long-term care system, rather than falling into perpetual cycles of study and inaction.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk writes that Texas' disastrous confirm both the value of Crown corporations, and the need to ensure they have adequate resources to plan for disaster scenarios in ways that private operators won't bother with. And Roque Planas takes a look at some of the frivolous nonsense pushed by Texas Republicans as they've neglected their state's basic infrastructure.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Active cats.


Tuesday Morning Links

 This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Andrea Reimer examines the power dynamics at play in government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the limits of formal political power where it isn't paired with knowledge and networks. And the Globe and Mail's editorial board rightly questions the dubious math behind the choice of Doug Ford (like many other conservative premiers) to accept widespread disease and death rather than taking meaningful steps to rein in the coronavirus.

- Shaun Lintern reports on new research showing that long COVID results in substantial numbers of hospitalizations and deaths beyond the ones recognized at the time a person is first infected.

- Eric Reguly discusses how compulsory licensing is an entirely viable option to ensure that pharmaceutical manufacturers aren't able to withhold COVID vaccines from less wealthy countries.

- Naomi Klein writes that Texas Republicans (and other right-wing parties) fear a Green New Deal in no small part because it provides an alternative to the dangerous combination of small government and large-scale corporate control. And Joel Laforest writes about Jason Kenney's losing bet on Keystone XL in particular (and an indefinite oil boom more generally). 

- Bob Weber reports on the nine-figure property tax bill which the oil sector has left unpaid to rural municipalities. And Jillian Ambrose reports on the massive waste emissions from UK offshore oil platforms.

- Finally, Marc Spooner writes about the dangers of performance-based funding in setting up warped and short-sighted incentives for universities.

Monday, February 22, 2021

On unknown consequences

There's been a spate of recent stories about the change in butter quality arising out of the use of palm oil as feed for cattle - with attention being paid both to the effect on product quality, and the environmental damage caused by palm oil as an input.

But there's another line of spin which particularly highlights the problem with major changes to food inputs in the absence of any apparent awareness of the consequences:

Dairy Farmers of Canada released a new statement on Feb. 16 following the Journal’s report about the “open secret” within the industry, saying that it was “aware of the recent reports regarding fat supplementation in the dairy sector.”


“Dairy farmers in other countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia also use this supplement. They can help provide energy to cows and no undesirable effects have been identified arising from its use in cows’ feed rations.”

Or put even more starkly by another industry spokesperson:

(W)ithout significant study into the source of the milk used to make that butter, there’s no way to know if it’s the addition of palm oil in a cow’s ration or simply other forage and supplement options that bump the level


I have directly spoken with several farmers in at least four provinces and all of them say the same thing — if customers voice a concern with milk or butter, it needs to be researched fully (some of which is already happening), and if there’s a change needed at the farm level, they’re willing to take that on, too.

Needless to say, these statements raise serious questions as to why research isn't being done until what we eat changes to the point where it provokes consumer backlash. 

It's surely fair to figure that if a change in feed goes so far as to produce noticeable differences in the observable properties of the resulting product, there's a reasonable prospect that it's also causing other changes which aren't so easily discovered. 

A responsible plan to deploy that type of change would then figure to include some meaningful study as to what it actually does. But the response from the industry which has gone about changing what we eat without our to place the responsibility on us to push for research needed to determine how it will affect consumers.  

In other words, the industry response is a typical application of an anti-precautionary principle: that businesses are entitled to change what they want to without notice, that consumers who can't sniff out the altered products can be conscripted as guinea pigs to find out what happens when their food is altered, and that the only way industry will accept any regulation is if a specific change (which it's concealed) is subsequently proven to create harm.

To be clear, that philosophy has been entirely normalized among far too many types of business - not to mention among right-wing governments devoted to reframing health and safety regulations as "red tape" to be summarily slashed in the name of corporate profits. But we should demand more both from our elected officials, and from the producers of the basic food products we rely on.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Marieke Walsh reports on the new modeling from the Public Health Agency of Canada which shows how COVID's variants will foreseeably result in massive numbers of cases if we don't act to clamp down on viral spread. Andrew Nikiforuk highlights how the emergence of those variants makes it all the more urgent that we pursue a COVID-zero strategy. And Scott Schmidt uses a Jaws analogy to point out how much needless danger is created when governments not only fail to take obvious steps to avoid further spread, but encourage people to put themselves in positions likely to contribute to further transmission.

- Meanwhile, German Lopez discusses how trying to return to a pre-COVID (or pre-Trump) "normal" falls far short of addressing desperate social crises. And Doug Cuthand notes that one of the most devastating of those - the opioid crisis - can best be met with harm reduction and decriminalization.

- Galen Herz writes that the construction of social housing is becoming an increasingly viable policy option in the U.S. But that only makes it all the more pathetic that we've seen only pittances put toward the same goal in Canada - as Nick Falvo notes in his primer on supportive housing. And Mira Miller reports that Toronto is using its resources to take away shelters from people with nowhere else to go, rather than to ensure people actually have the homes they need.

- James Galbraith discusses the role deregulation and laissez-faire economics have played in Texas' collapsing power infrastructure. And Eric Wolff, Debra Kahn and Zack Colman point out that for all the differences between California and Texas, they (like every other jurisdiction on the planet) share an acute vulnerability to the effects of a climate breakdown.

- Finally, Luke Savage notes that even in Texas there's far more appetite for a shift to clean energy than the fossil fuel-funded political establishment is willing to acknowledge. And Rick Smith writes that U.S.'. long-overdue climate policy ambition under the Biden administration offers an opportunity for Canada to stop being a laggard.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Damian Carrington reports on Antonio Gutierres' needed message that we can't afford to keep waging war on our natural environment. And Bruce Campbell examines how Norway is far exceeding Canada's track record when it comes to climate change policy. 

- Molly Taft reports on the fossil fuel funding behind the Republicans trying to turn the damage wrought by their own deregulation and neglect into an excuse to bash clean energy. And Joshua Taft and Blake Shaffer discuss the lessons Canadian provinces can and should learn from Texas' tragedy.

- Meanwhile, Eric Holthaus writes about the growing harm Bitcoin is doing to our planet by consuming massive amounts of dirty energy for no social benefit. 

- Sarath Peiris points out Saskatchewan's glaring lack of protection for provincial wetlands - reflecting yet another example of policy catering to a single, self-serving industry rather than the public good.

- Rita Trichur discusses the need for Canada to get serious about financial crime, including by ending our policy of granting secrecy to corporations looking to avoid having their beneficial ownership known.

- Finally, Robert Bronk discusses new research by the Institute for Work and Health showing that unionized construction sites are safer for workers.